Thousands celebrate MLK memorial dedication
In his speech, Obama did not directly mention himself or name any specific dynamics dividing the nation. But he focused on King's broad themes - equality, justice and peaceful resistance - and served up a reminder that "the hardships we face are nothing compared to those Dr. King and his fellow marchers faced 50 years ago."
But in one section, the way Obama described King's struggles drew clear parallels with his own.
"Even after rising to prominence, even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King was vilified by many," Obama, a Nobel Prize winner himself, said.
"He was even attacked by his own people, by those who felt he was going too fast of those who felt he was going too slow," the president said.
Obama has taken criticism from the right for the signature health care overhaul and from the left - the Congressional Black Caucus and progressives in the Democratic party - for compromising too easily with Republicans on fiscal issues.
Obama then pivoted to the nation's political polarization, the distrust of institutions and the acidic tone of debate.
"If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there," Obama told the crowd, in comments that seemed aimed at the protests against the wealthy and powerful, from Wall Street to Washington and beyond.
Obama seemed to address the tea partiers and others who have scored major political victories with searing demands that government shrink itself and stop spending so much taxpayer money.
"He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other's love for this country," Obama said, "with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another."
Americans could learn something about the tone of debate from King, too, Obama said.
"He would call on us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst, and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound."
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